28 May 2018

Swaziland: Court Bid to Allow Parties in Election

The Swaziland Democratic Party (SWADEPA) is going to the High Court to try to force absolute monarch King Mswati III to allow political parties to contest the forthcoming election.

Parties have been banned from running since a royal decree in 1973 established the absolute monarchy.

SWADEPA wants its party members to openly contest the election due later this year. Under the present system of 'Monarchical Democracy' people are only allowed to stand as individuals. At the last election in 2013 Jan Sithole the SWADEPA President was elected in this way to the House of Assembly in Manzini North.

The application is expected to be heard on 20 July 2018.

Elections are held every five years in Swaziland but international observers do not consider them to be 'free and fair' because political parties cannot take part. At past elections people only got to select 55 of 65 members of the House of Assembly. The King chose the other 10. At the forthcoming election there will be an additional four seats for people to vote for. It has not been announced how many members the King will choose but the Swaziland Constitution allows him to pick up to ten.

As in previous years, none of the 30 members of the Swazi Senate will be elected by the people; the King will choose 20 and the other 10 will be chosen by members of the House of Assembly. The King picks the Prime Minister and Government.

In its report on conduct of the 2013 election, the African Union (AU) mission called for fundamental changes to ensure people had freedom of speech and of assembly. The AU said the Swaziland Constitution guaranteed 'fundamental rights and freedoms including the rights to freedom of association', but in practice 'rights with regard to political assembly and association are not fully enjoyed'. The AU said this was because political parties were not allowed to contest elections.

The AU urged Swaziland to review the constitution, especially in the areas of 'freedoms of conscience, expression, peaceful assembly, association and movement as well as international principles for free and fair elections and participation in electoral process'.

In its report on the 2013 elections, Commonwealth observers recommended that measures be put in place to ensure separation of powers between the government, parliament and the courts so that Swaziland was in line with its international commitments.

It also called on the Swaziland Constitution to be 'revisited' and recommended that a law be passed to allow for political parties to take part in elections, 'so as to give full effect to the letter and spirit of Section 25 of the Constitution, and in accordance with Swaziland's commitment to its regional and international commitments'.

The European Union Election Experts Mission (EEM) made much of how the kingdom's absolute monarchy undermined democracy. In its report it stated, 'The King has absolute power and is considered to be above the law, including the Constitution, enjoying the power to assent laws and immunity from criminal proceedings. A bill shall not become law unless the King has assented to it, meaning that the parliament is unable to pass any law which the King is in disagreement with.

'The King will refer back the provisions he is not in agreement with, which makes the parliament and its elected chamber, the House of Assembly, ineffective, unable to achieve the objective a parliament is created for: to be the legislative branch of the state and maintain the government under scrutiny.'

The EEM went on to say the 'main principles for a democratic state are not in place' in Swaziland.

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